The publicity debacle surrounding WWE’s 10-year deal with the government of Saudi Arabia to produce pro wrestling events as part of the country’s Vision 2030 reform initiative may have just turned the corner into a full-on human rights crisis.
According to the Twitter account Prisoners of Conscience, Saudi man Sheikh Badr bin Ali Al-Otaibi has reportedly been arrested by the government for publicly criticizing the sport of pro wrestling. Prisoners of Conscience is a Twitter account that tracks the unjust arrest and detention of political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, which has enough material to update multiple times per day.
🔴 It is confirmed to us that Sheikh Badr bin Ali Al-Otaibi (بدر بن علي العتيبي) is arrested on 29/04/2018 because of his critique against Wrestling, coinciding with the event of signing a ten-year deal between #SaudiArabia and WWE to bring professional wrestling to KSA. pic.twitter.com/JLJZefZCvv
— Prisoners of Conscie (@m3takl_en) May 5, 2018
The news has been widely reported in pro wrestling media today, the latest in a long line of shameful associations WWE has created by its deal with the Saudis. The company took heat for keeping all of its female wrestlers off the Greatest Royal Rumble event in April because women were not allowed to perform in front of the crowd (though women were allowed to attend, so long as they had the permission of a male guardian). During the show, a commercial aired accidentally featuring women in wrestling costumes, prompting Saudi television to cut it from the broadcast and the Sports Authority (the Saudi government department, not the sporting goods chain) to apologize for the footage airing in the stadium.
In response, WWE executive Triple H touted the company’s advancements in the “Women’s Evolution,” a fictional company initiative where WWE congratulates itself for treating women wrestlers as mostly equal to the men, correcting years of injustice and equality created by WWE itself for the decades it treated women wrestlers as sex objects and bimbos and said he hoped women would be allowed to wrestle in Saudi Arabia in a few years.
But that’s not all. Sami Zayn, a wrestler of Syrian ancestry who has done charity work in the country was also kept off the event, apparently because of that association. Additionally, pro wrestlers Shawn and Ariya Daivari, of Iranian descent, were used as part of a jingoistic Saudi propaganda segment at the show, which nicely complemented WWE’s butt-kissing of Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman, but earned death threats for Ariya Daivari. And now, this.
And that’s after just one visit. WWE is rumored to return to Saudi Arabia for another event in November. Will anyone get them to respond to Al-Otaibi’s reported arrest between now and then? We hear Snickers has some pull.